To what extent can relations of caste be explained by class relations? Essay

Today, we acknowledge the fact that we have a set structure in place to understand how things and people work within a society. As Professor Raja Jayaraman would have it “the social structure of a society is the product of the interaction of different variables such as ecology, technology, economy and culture. ” (3) While these are an integral part of society I predominantly want to focus your attention on the Class system working the western world. While Australia is a multicultural society, we must see ourselves as one and part of one system and we must recognise ourselves as a westernised culture.

But to veer away from this for a moment we must concede that this structure differs in each culture. Here I introduce caste. To further grasp these concepts of caste as well as class, we must first define each and then attempt to understand how they work and make up society, how they relate to each other and how they differ. There are different meanings which describe a caste. A Caste is mainly associated with Hinduism. As the Human Rights Watch would see it, ‘it is the ordering of society on the basis of ritual purity. ‘ (http://www. hrw. org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03. tm. )

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Leach defines it ‘as a system of social organization peculiar to Hindu India. ‘ (111) it’s about a system recognising the religious purity and individual positioning of people in society. While a caste system exists in cultures beside India, this is the most well known caste which I will be predominantly focusing on, to be exact the Varna Model. These divisions of status seen in a caste are religiously ruled ‘arranged in hierarchical order… the Brahmins (priests), Kshatriya (warrior/ king), Vaishya (merchants) and Shudra (servants)’ (Jayaraman 4).

Below the Shudra is an even lower class known as the Harijan which have been labeled as the “untouchables”. The original idea in India (by Gandhi) was that nobody was superior or inferior, but it did develop into a model of hierarchy as seen above. As modern day studies reveal there is a gigantic inequality in the way this system works and by looking at labour, marriage, education and inescapability we can understand why. When referring to caste and labor, according to the Human Rights Watch, members of the Varna model and most other models are born into their jobs.

Sanitation Job; that of cleaning the streets and the handling of human waste’ (http://www. hrw. org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03. htm. ) are performed by the Harijan’s. No matter how many human rights groups step in to try and do something about this severe inequality, it continues to exist. Some caste’s, like that in Japan, the employment system hires a private investigator to search people backgrounds to see if they have an Baraku (equivalent to untouchables) background. According to Jayaraman, such jobs as ‘leather-working and barbering’ are considered the lowest jobs (beside that of course of the Harijan’s).

Marriage in a caste system is probably the most severe. There are barriers in place where higher caste members cannot marry lower caste members. There are ruthless punishments in place. For example “an upper Brahmin boy and a lower-caste girl were dragged to the roof of a house and hung by members of their own family. ” (http://www. hrw. org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03. htm. ) In other caste systems such as in Japan, again private investigators are hired to be positive that a bride or groom is not of a Baraku family.

In all known cases of inter-caste relationships and marriages, each are frowned upon and majority of the time, parties involved face serious punishment if caught. Looking at education, many members of the lower caste are illiterate and uneducated. Sometimes education isn’t even an option because the families are so poor that they require as much income they can get. If education is an option for a lower caste member, then usually discrimination within the classroom is seen, with members of the Harijan being made to sit right at the back of the classroom, away from children of upper caste. There are signs of an upward mobility through education and non discriminatory law’ (http://www. hrw. org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03. htm. ) but it is not highly seen in the Caste system.

Some castes are even prohibited to enter schools. Taking about inescapability, ‘in such a system like this, the status of individuals and groups is usually determined by birth and because of this mobility is highly restricted. (Jayaraman 6) The idea of the “untouchables” is that they are there because in their past life they have committed a very bad deed and as the Hindu belief lies, they are born into the lowest state of human dignity as punishment (karma). In Jayaraman’s essay, we can see that they considers the idea of Sriniva, where he states that ‘relations between castes are governed not only by the concepts of pollution and purity but also economic, political and numerical power” (4), the power of purity overrules and is the power, which in fact controls all aspects of society.

As Human Rights have attempted to diminish the extensity of inequality, the traditional ideas stay firmly grounded that you stay in what you are born in until death, and cannot escape it. As we have taken a look at the way in which Caste systems work, we can now move on to explore class systems in modern day society. As heard through lectures, Class (as caste) can have several meanings but it is the overall difference in hierarchical levels in a capitalist system based on economic status and power.

It can be said that there is four divisions of class… he upper class (‘blue collar workers’. Doctors, lawyers and managers of big organizations), Middle class (‘white collar workers’ shopkeepers, farmers, teachers etc), working class (skilled manual workers, tradesman, shop assistance, nurses etc. ), and the lower class (non-skilled workers). These divisions seem to be divided by occupation, but in turn occupation determines wealth. Here I just want to focus your attention on Karl Marx. Marx invented another stream of the class model known as the ‘Bourgeoisie’ and the ‘proletariat’ class which are known as capitalists and working class.

With this theory came Marx’s notion that the capitalist class were “those groups who own factories, farms, coal mines, raw materials etc. , become a coherent group looking after their own interests” (http://www. hewett. norfolk. sch. uk/curric/soc/marx/mclass. htm) living in similar surroundings and sending children to similar school they formed the capitalist class. The Proletariat (working) class worked for the capitalist class for wages. On the contrary Max Webber created the notion that structure of class is based on mannerisms, where you a placed in your class through speech, manner, social habits, schooling etc.

We can see these two theories put in practice in our society, where we could look at Labor, marriage, education and movement of the class system. Looking at the Labor side of our society, we can already understand it through Marx theory of the capitalist and working class. Although it is interesting to point out that not everyone in society has associated themselves to be in a class and the term ‘ruling class’ (or upper class) ‘has given offence, raised eyebrows and caused confusion’ (Connell 50).

We must recognise that this ‘ruling class’ in fact runs our working class. When it comes to labor, people who have gone through university and have gotten themselves degrees usually find that they are in better jobs (e. g. , doctors, lawyers) and people without tertiary education can still become managers, but of lower organisations. For example I don’t need any tertiary education to become the manager of McDonalds; it is more on the job training, time and education. These people might still be considered in the middle class or working class.

Take a medical surgery for example. The Doctors are seen in the ‘ruling class’ while the reception staff and nurses working for these doctors are seen in the working class, not only do they lead different working lives (as suggested by Marx) but also different social lives and leisure habits (as suggested by Webber). In terms of marriage in our society it is not so much determined by which class you’re in, although sometimes families want their children to marry other people of the same religion or race etc.

There is an inter-relation of marriage where class doesn’t usually determine who is acceptable for marriage. Schooling and education in our society is much commonly known to reflect the working class entered. According to Connell, in earlier education like that in the 1950’s /60’s, children would leave as soon as they were legally able to enter the workforce because the idea was that the earlier you could start supporting yourself the better, to veer away from your mother and father and gain your own independence.

In terms of education we can also see that private schools, public schools, and elite schools all carry their own ‘classes’. For example you wouldn’t see Kerri Packer’s children in a public school. Although families from the working class sometimes want the best possible education for their children and often find that their wages are not enough to provide their children with the best education by paying the hefty bills that come with elite schools.

When I say movement I am referring to Social mobility. Social mobility ‘occurs whenever people move across social class boundaries, or from one occupational level to another’ (http://www. hewett. norfolk. sch. uk/curric/soc/class/socmob. htm), and this movement can be either upward or down. With social mobility it’s all about the movement within these classes where people can either work their way up through education or work their way down through lack of motivation and dedication.

The study of social mobility seems to show relevance in our society where; ‘it matters to people to get on in life, we can see changes in the class system, the more mobile a society is may show it to be more open and fairer, And mobility affects the way classes are formed, their size and shape. ” (http://www. hewett. norfolk. sch. uk/curric/soc/class/socmob. htm) for example the Capitalist group is the minority while the working class is the majority. Finally, looking at both caste and class relations it can be seen that there are many more differences than similarities in how each system is structured and in turn operates.

As Connell points out “a class exists only in and through its relations with other classes” (Connell, 51) when we look at this statement and look at class relations, we know that even though there is still inequality, there is at least interrelations within the system, but referring this to caste there are none. Referring to Labor we can clearly see the difference, where the way the caste system works differs immensely from the class system. Labor in the Caste system operates from birth, i. e. , if you are born in the Kshatriya, you are a warrior and you inherit your father’s position.

We can see this in the class system through the Packer and Murdoch families, where their children inherit their power and wealth. With Marriage, there is an enormous inequality in the way in which the caste system operates, where people of higher class cannot marry lower castes, or severe punishments will be served. In the class system, the extremity of punishment isn’t present, although some cultures in our society see that marriage should be based upon religion and race, to some extent, the caste system also has the same expectations.

When it comes to education, again we see a bigger inequality in the caste system rather than the class. A lot of illiterate people exist in a caste system, where most people in the western world are literate because education is usually compulsory. While a caste system is more concerned on being able to get an education, the class system focuses it energies more on what level of education they are getting through their social class. Mobility allows people in the class system to move up and down, where as members of the caste system must remain where they are initially brought into to, and cannot escape; i. . , the Harijans are labeled the “untouchables” for life. To come back to the question, to what extent can caste relations be explained by class relations, class doesn’t explain caste the only similarity they have is that they are both a structure reflecting peoples places in society. Caste relations are a much more definitive structure than class relations. Its set levels are strongly emplaced in its society, as seen here the Indian society, and because of the lack of mobility seen in the caste system, people suffering severe poverty in the lower caste cannot escape.

A class system is a much more structured but a less definitive way of looking at people in society. In a caste system people are recognised and labeled through their social division while people in a class structure tend to be recognised on an individual basis. Coming back to Raja’s definition of a society, “the social structure of a society is the product of the interaction of different variables such as ecology, technology, economy and culture,” (3) we can see all these things and more are vital for a society to exist and function on a balanced level.

Looking at the caste system in India and referring to the Harijans, they are so degraded in society that they don’t even play an equal role in the workforce, education, or even their own lives and wellbeing. The lower class in westernised society isn’t even this extreme, because if people are struggling, the government offers them support until they are able to find it. Caste and Class both demonstrate a division of groups of people on the basis of power. The class system, still having its faults and its inequality, is a much more equal system when comparing it to a caste system.

With all the sources looked at, and ideas and definitions put together we can see that caste and class exists on there own, while one is run by power, the other is run by religious values and beliefs,. “A class exits only in and through its relations with other classes” (Connell 51), so the overall function of any system of division to work is the capability for different classes, like that of the capitalist and working class, to work together so that individuals can fulfill more.


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